Washington County Sheriff’s Department will have no officers on the road on night shift

WASHINGTON CO. – In an unprecedented move, effective March 22, the Washington County Sheriff’s Department will not have enough officers to provide 24-hour coverage. It will no longer have deputies on duty from 11:00 p.m. through 7:00 a.m., creating a risk to public safety.

Sheriff Brent Miller

“This is not news that I want to deliver to the citizens of Washington County,” said Sheriff Brent Miller. “This is not a decision that has been made lightly. To the contrary, we have made changes after schedule change in an attempt to continue 24/7 coverage for the county.”

Sheriff Miller said deputies work seven or eight days in a row and occasionally have worked 16-hour shifts.

“That isn’t safe for anyone,” he said. “We are trying to maintain appropriate police coverage but simply can’t keep working as we are.”

The department is currently down six deputies, with two officers at training, one on light duty, and three open positions. Sheriff Miller said attracting and retaining qualified candidates has become increasingly challenging due to the county’s low pay scale.

“A recent salary survey revealed that our starting salary is $9,000 below the average starting salary of officers, compared to surrounding counties and/or city police departments,” according to Sheriff Miller. “Our deputies are simply leaving for more money.”

In the last three years, high turnover has plagued the department, which is very costly to Washington County’s taxpayers. The county must put newly hired officers through the police academy, only to lose them shortly after graduation.

Another deputy recently told Sheriff Miller he is leaving to accept a higher-paying position with a neighboring police department.

“This made the 10th deputy to leave our department since I was elected and took over the department in January 2019,” said Sheriff Miller.

Three left law enforcement, but the other seven accepted positions elsewhere, some making $15,000 to $20,000 more than Washington County is paying.

The high turnover also means that the department is very young and inexperienced overall. When the three open positions are filled, the department will have six deputies with two years or less experience.

Sheriff Miller said the Washington County Council cannot continue to ignore this issue. Despite e-mailing all county council members and commissioners several times about the personnel shortage, he has only heard from three council members and one commissioner.

Sheriff Miller said the changes made by the county council in 2021 helped for a short period. At that time, the council agreed to hire three additional deputies for 16 and lock in the starting salary at $44,980 for three years.

“It is now three years later, and we are back at the bottom again. The applicant pool has been shrinking drastically, and all police agencies compete for the same applicants,” he said. “They are going to go where the money and benefits are better. You can’t blame people for wanting to better themselves.”

“At this point in our discussions, the county council has not communicated any options for a possible solution to the public safety issue,” said Sheriff Miller. “I have been told that the county lacks funds to fix the issue.”

He stressed that the county will face ongoing difficulties in retaining and recruiting new officers if the issue isn’t resolved.

“The Merit Board and I have also met with an out-of-county advisor to discuss possible solutions to fund our personnel shortage,” said Sheriff Miller.

Effective March 22, Sheriff Miller has formally requested the Indiana State Police provide coverage during the third shift.

“Even if the State Police can provide additional coverage, it is the responsibility of the county government to provide public safety for the citizens they represent,” said Sheriff Miller. “I sincerely hope the county council will come to the table and work with me, my department, and the Merit Board to address this very serious public safety issue.”